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Shadow Minister for Communications – Doorstop, Parliament House – 29 September 2022

Topics: Minister McBain, online privacy reform

Senator Henderson: Good afternoon. Today we have heard reports that Minister McBain has clearly misled the House of Representatives yesterday. She made a statement saying that she had not received any dividends and now reports today make it clear that she did. She needs to urgently correct the record. But this is also a very big test for the Prime Minister at a time when integrity is very much a focus in the parliament this week. This is a test for Prime Minister Albanese as to whether Minister McBain should continue in her job. This is deeply concerning. This is a very serious matter and as I say, minister McBain needs to urgently correct the record and we need to hear from the Prime Minister as to whether he considers that she’s still fit to continue in her job.

I also want to make some brief remarks about the urgent amendments that are required to the Privacy Act. Today Julian Leeser and I have called on the government to introduce amendments into the next sitting of parliament. Under the former government, we did an enormous amount of work to protect the privacy of Australians online. The online privacy bill encompasses many of those reforms. We cannot see the government sit on its hands and we do need urgent action on that front.

I’m happy to take any questions.

Question: Are significant penalties required as part of those reforms? Obviously there’s a huge cost to Optus in fixing up this mess, but there is going to be nothing more than a slap on the wrist when it comes to actual consequences?

Senator Henderson: Well, absolutely. And that’s why since July, Julian Leeser and myself have been calling on the government to adopt the provisions of the Online Privacy Bill, which includes fines of up to $10 million. We do need these amendments urgently implemented. There may well be a need for further amendments, but we did an enormous amount of work when we were in government to amend the Privacy Act, an enormous amount of consultation on the exposure draft of the Online Privacy Bill, and so rather than push this off into late this year or early next year, as the Attorney-General has indicated this morning, most of this work has been done. The privacy of Australians online is absolutely critical and that’s why these amendments need to be introduced into the next sitting of Parliament.

Question: The government has asked Optus to consider covering the cost for people to get a new passport. We’re yet to hear back from Optus. Is that pretty disappointing that we’re yet to hear from Optus, given that request was put to them more than a day ago?

Senator Henderson: Look, I think Optus needs to do everything they can to shore up the privacy and security of Australians online. Clearly we were disappointed that in so far as passports were concerned, it looked like the minister was not acting quickly enough to ensure that Australians have an immediate right to change and update their passports or to get a new passport. So really the government is responsible for that and needs to work and act very, very quickly.

Question: But to clarify Optus should pay for the passports, not the taxpayer?

Senator Henderson: Well, really, I think Optus should pay for all the costs associated with the terrible breach that has occurred. But we do need to see some urgent action from the government to make sure that Australians can quickly get new passports.

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